SEAN Fall Symposium Examines Crisis Preparedness

Dr. Robert Groves, co-chair of the Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), welcomed attendees to the second annual convening.  SEAN aims to identify pressing societal problems and leverage behavioral and social science solutions. The 2023 fall symposium featured two expert panels and facilitated discussion on opportunities for the behavioral and social sciences to inform effective crisis preparedness. 

The first panel, SBE Lessons on Preparedness from COVID-19 included: 

  • Dr. Valerie Reyna, Psychology, Cornell University
  • Dr. Itzhak Yanovitzky, Communications, Rutgers University
  • Dr. Allison Arwady,  former public health commissioner, Chicago
  • Dr. Rita Carreón, Vice President for Health at Unidos US

Speakers shared reflections on what went right and wrong in pandemic responses and prioritized strengthening communication infrastructure in public health at various access points (i.e. in the front lines of care, at community-based organizations, and between partners at the community level and at the state or federal level) and using straightforward language in messages to the public to empower them to make decisions.

The following presenters comprised the second panel, Building Trust in Public Health

  • Dr. Gillian SteelFisher, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Alec Tyson, an associate director of research, Pew Research Center
  • Dr. Pramod Dwivedi, Health Director, Linn County, Iowa
  • Dr. Susan Polan, associate executive director, American Public Health Association 

Panelists agreed on key takeaways: the general public has a limited understanding of and trust in public health –  and this has decreased across all groups, and particularly those with conservative politics. Nonetheless, 70 percent of the public still has some confidence in public health, which gives us an opportunity to rebuild trust. States have an opportunity to rebuild trust by refining messaging, partnering with community organizations, and being thoughtful of states that are pulling authority from health departments.

Dr. Mary Bassett, Harvard University and SEAN Co-Chair, offered closing remarks re-emphasizing the importance of making “it” local when building relationships, maintaining trust, or collecting data. FABBS applauds SEAN for the innovative approach, working with state and local decision makers to understand critical policy decisions and drawing from behavioral and social sciences to improve outcomes for all.